We all know that the best way to help our children become (and stay!) multilingual is by talking the languages we want them to become proficient in as often as we can and by providing an attractive context (with friends, family etc.).
By acquiring other languages, our children do not only learn about the grammar but also about the cultures, the traditions. I always preferred learning by contexts and this means by reading and talking, by interacting with people. And my children do the same.
But we all know that there are periods where we can’t provide this ideal context of friends and family talking to our children, or total language immersion and need to draw on other tools.
When I was a child, the only tools we had were LPs with music and stories from other countries. It was the pre-satellite era and we didn’t receive TV programms than the national ones and the internet was not even invented… (yes, now I’m feeling old!). – Raising multilingual children nowadays, is incredibly easy compared to this. Our children have easy access to multilingual materials wherever they are.
Personally, I don’t consider watching TV (or DVD’s) a very good way to teach language to our children, but I know, from my own experience, that it can really help to build at least a passive vocabulary. I prefer the internet sites of Radio or TV channels, which offer a really large variety of activities and games that are a much more active way to spend screen time. And by watching some TV programmes via internet, my children can choose the times that fit better in their personal schedules and usually they switch to interactive sites pretty quick. – My children are not allowed to watch TV during the week due to time constraints, hence they really enjoy their screen time in the weekends.
Here are the sites that my children visit when they have time:
For German: KiKa (Kinderkanal/channel for children) offers a considerable amount of valuable shows, games, riddles, and lists of books for children of any age. My children like to watch the “Sendung mit der Maus” (some video and youtube excerpts here ) on Sundays. My girls like the “Sonntagsmärchen” (Sunday tales, mainly Grimms’ tales but also from other cultures) and my son “Willi wills wissen” where all kind of curious questions are answered.
For Italian: I must admit that my children barely watch Italian TV or visit Italian internet sites. But this is only because they already have so much on their plates. Nevertheless, I can recommend the channel Rai Gulp with programmes for all age groups. What my son prefers watching are hockey games of his favourite Swiss (Italian) team and he reads everything about it.
My children love to listen to music. The fact that they understand everything in so many languages makes them very proud and I think that music as much as poetry helps a lot to learn and improve languages and to learn about the different cultures. But they also love to listen to audio stories. When they were younger, we used to listen to audio stories on our long car rides. For German these were mostly Grimm’s tales , Bibi Blocksberg, Pumuckl . For English, they liked stories from Barefoot books and for Dutch we have a whole series of audiobooks from Disney called “lees mee“. Among the Swissgerman stories, they particularly liked Globi, Kasperli.
Personally, I think that folktales in general are very good to teach our children about the culture related to the languages they’re learning. They teach about the mentality and the core values. Of course, modern tales which are very country specific, like Nijntje and Mega MIndi in the Netherlands, can be added to the more traditional ones. – But this will be the topic for another post.